The art of it all

Features - Lawn Care

Dick Bare learned that you need more than technical knowledge to run a business.

February 13, 2013

Despite growing up in the nursery and tree care business, Dick Bare of Atlanta-based Arbor-Nomics Turf says that he didn’t really know much about the landscape industry until he had owned his first company for a year and realized he’d only earned $3,500.

“I said, ‘Wonderful – what was my salary?’” Bare says with a laugh. “They said, ‘No – that’s it.’ I knew the names of trees. I learned the hard way that just because you know the technical stuff doesn’t mean you’ll make a living. That’s another art.”

Today, Bare is CEO of Arbor-Nomics, a lawn, tree and shrub treatment company with $6 million in revenues and 50 employees. The gutsy, gregarious entrepreneur claims the secret to his success is always learning and exceeding expectations.

“I’ve made it a habit when I meet someone successful to ask them how they did it,” says Bare, who grew up near Youngstown, Ohio, and earned a degree in horticulture at The Ohio State University.

Bare began ascending the steep learning curve of being a better manager when he started his own business in Columbus and didn’t make any money in his first year due to excessive spending on equipment.

Those initial lessons became the backbone of Bare’s business once he started Arbor-Nomics. He learned to analyze everything and rethink his business model on a regular basis. They also helped to galvanize his decisions when he reached the $1 million threshold and needed to hire a key manager to help him grow his business further.

“I’d been in business 10 years, gotten up to about $750,000 and stayed there for five years,” he says.

“I couldn’t find someone for the operational side of the business. “When I promoted my technicians, they’d just sit in the office all day and laugh and play. I began to realize I’d have to go outside of my company to find a true manager.”

Finally, Bare landed on Doug Cash, an eager, aggressive worker with the kind of native instincts that exemplify good managers.

Within a matter of weeks, Cash had let go two workers that were “baggage” and spent time training others that were company assets. Soon Arbor-Nomics Turf was doing the same amount of business with less overhead. The decision to hire Cash wasn’t easy – he wanted a lot of money, almost as much as Bare himself was making, and Bare’s father was opposed to hiring the young upstart.

Ultimately, however, Bare made the choice and it turned out to be a very good one. Bare’s advice to others is to remain on the lookout for talent:

“When you’re small, keep your eye on your crew and see if there’s a guy who can help take you to the next level.”

To read the full story, visit and search “Arbor-Nomics.”

Fanatical about feedback

There’s nothing wrong with being crazy about customer surveys.

According to Dick Bare of Arbor-Nomics Turf in Atlanta, the key to winning a 97-percent customer-satisfaction rate is going above and beyond to meet client expectations.

That includes surfing business recommendation websites such as Angie’s List where customer reviews might appear and working obsessively to address negative reviews. “We’re fanatical about reading and reacting to them every day,” Bare says. “I’ve gone out and spent hours with someone on a Saturday who wasn’t even our customer yet. They didn’t like the way the technician did the survey, and so I tried to address it.”

Bare says it’s critical for businesses to examine such surveys because that’s how many customers choose lawn and landscape companies these days. Negative reviews are not set in stone, he says, and can be addressed and changed with proper follow up. “The people who write in are really fabulous; I wish there were more of them,” he says. “They help us to identify things that might not be working about our businesses.” Bare is always astounded by the number of owners who never talk to their customers or ask for feedback. If they did, Bare says, they might be surprised at what they found out. Above all, he counsels other business owners to always provide good value for their customers. That’s what people want, especially during a national recession, he says.

Finally, he tells small business owners to talk to people they admire. “Even if you’re small, go talk to the big guys,” he says. “They’ll give you all kinds of incredible free advice.”